After my first encounter with Barbara at the diner, I found myself sitting at the counter there quite a lot drinking a slowly-cooling cup of coffee that I milked for every last penny. I couldn’t afford much, so regular meals at the diner were out of the question, but I wanted to be near the beautiful, young waitress who bounded across the floor delighting the oft-weary customers who trundled through the doors of the diner.
She remembered me right away that first day I re-appeared in the diner after we’d met, and she wasn’t shy about talking to me. I took it to mean she was interested in me, but in truth, she treated everyone that way given her outgoing nature. Nevertheless, I’d drag myself to the diner every morning after my night shift and order my single cup of coffee and bask in the light of her presence.
It didn’t take long for me to ask her out, and to my surprise, she readily accepted my promise of a date. She had to ask for a weekend evening off, so it took a couple of weeks before we could actually go on the date. I remember that those two weeks were the longest of my young life. I’d visit her every day and we’d count down the days left until we could have some time together outside the diner. She seemed as genuinely as excited as I was.
I took her to see The Pink Panther, and I guess I enjoyed the movie, and maybe she did too, but to be honest, I don’t remember much about it. I remember touching her hand at one point during the movie and watching her laugh at the funny parts. In the fuzzy glow of long ago, our relationship seemed preordained yet mysterious. I couldn’t really explain how I felt about her. Maybe she had a sixth sense about where we were headed, but if she did, she never shared it with me. All I knew was that I loved her, and when I eagerly proposed to her six months later in the fall of 1964, she had already decided that she’d say yes.
We married in the glorious spring of 1965 with just our parents and siblings present. My cousin still worked at the mill and couldn’t get off to attend our wedding. We’d lived together until my wedding, but the vigor and frequency of our conversations had faded. He never said anything of the sort, but I felt he was jealous of my relationship with Barbara. I tried to keep in touch with him as much as possible until Barbara and I moved out of the city a year later. After that, I only saw him at family reunions until he died of a heart attack when he was 50 years old.
I had taken a job with a new delivery company as a supervisor in 1966, and that job gave Barbara and me the opportunity to move out of the city and into a small house that greatly improved our living conditions. We still lived paycheck to paycheck at the time, but that house made us feel wealthy. It had a tiny yard with an actual white, picket fence in the front. I loved that house, and I think about it often. Those years we spent alone there represented the best ones of our lives together despite the struggles we had trying to have children.
We had this old metal bench on the stoop out back. Barbara and I would sit out there and watch the world go by on those long summer days. The view wasn’t much thanks to the power line that drooped along the back of the row of houses on our street, but it was our view, and we loved it. We spent many evenings on that bench drinking her homemade lemonade and talking about our plans for our lives. Many tears were shed there as well as Barbara struggled with the possibility that we would never have children. She wanted kids so badly back then. It broke my heart to see her so sad.
There were a lot of trees and bushes beyond the small tract of grass in our backyard since our house was on the edge of the neighborhood. Our house abutted a vast forest back in those days that remained largely undeveloped. As a result we had many birds that fluttered in and out of our yard. We saw hummingbirds and many other types of which I never learned the names. On the other hand, Barbara threw herself into the study of these birds in her spare time as a way to distract herself from her worries of never having a family. She checked out books from the local library and consumed every tidbit of information she could about the birds that inhabited our little neighborhood.
On many evenings, she’d tell me about the birds we saw. I never retained much of what she said because I didn’t have much interest in birds, but I gladly accepted her instruction because a conversation about birds was much better than the alternative. One afternoon, she pulled out a notebook and began writing notes about the birds she saw.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Why are you keeping a journal?”
“I’m tracking the birds.”
“Because I want to.”
I didn’t argue with her. I knew better. For all her wonderful qualities, determined and headstrong were two that dominated her personality. I’d learned fairly quickly not to get in the way of that train. In any event, I knew she needed something to distract her from some unpleasant realities.
On another evening we sat on our metal bench on a cool early summer evening. A slight breeze enveloped us in the fading light of the day. That day had been particularly good for us. No arguments. No crying. Barbara leaned into my shoulder and sighed contently.
“You see those birds on the power line?” she asked.
“They’ve been sitting there every night this week.”
I looked at the two birds sitting on the wire. I couldn’t identify what kind they were, and they seemed just like every other bird I’d seen fly across our yard.
“Hmm…how do you know they are the same birds?”
“Look at the markings on their wings.”
I strained to see any visible markings. I slight red mark gleamed on one of the birds.
“Okay,” I said unconvinced.
She let out a long contented sigh and huddled closer to me.
“We’re like those birds.”
“Just sitting next to each other enjoying each other’s presence.”
I smiled. Despite all the hardship of trying to start a family, Barbara had managed to capture the essence of our relationship, and I loved her more than ever.